The great Lineage of Teachers - PART 1

Our Guru Parampara

Hinduism is the religion which is based on a teaching tradition, the Eternal Truth taught from an ācārya to Śiṣya, teacher to student . ‘ ācāryavān Puruṣo Veda ‘ in Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.14.2 (a person who gets a teacher attains knowledge) In Viṣṇu Sahasranāma we have the famous opening prayer where Mahaṛṣi Vedavyāsa’s family tree is beautifully described as:


Vyāsam Vaśiṣṭha naptāram Śakteh pautramakalmaṣam |
Parāśarātmajam vande Śukatātam taponidhim || (Viṣṇu Sahasranāma)


Vyāsa is the great grandson of Vaśiṣṭha and the grandson of Śakti, he is the son of Parāśara and father of Śuka. I offer my obeisance to that Vyāsa who is free from all the defects and he is a treasure of austerities (tapas). As you can see, all are famous names of venerated ṛṣis. So one can appreciate how the divine knowledge flows uninterrupted from father to son, from Guru to Śiṣya.


Now arises the question, “Who is the first Guru from whom the teaching sprouted?” The Advaita teaching tradition describes the lineage of teachers in the following verses and with Śraddhā we recite them before we commence the study of scripture.

Advaita guru-paramparā:


नारायणं पद्मभुवं वसिष्ठं शक्तिं च तत्पुत्रपराशरं च ।
व्यासं शुकं गौडपदं महान्तं गोविन्दयोगीन्द्रमथास्य शिष्यम् ॥

श्री शंकराचार्यमथास्य पद्मपादं च हस्तामलकं च शिष्यम् ।
तं तोटकं वार्तिककारमन्यानस्मद्गुरून् संततमानतोऽस्मि ॥

These two verses honor the names of the advaita paramparā teachers : 

1) Śrīman nārāyaṇa, 2) Brahmā, 3) Vasiṣṭha, 4) Shakti, 5) Parāśara, 6) Vyāsa, 7) Śuka,
 8) Gauḍapāda, 9) Govindapāda, 10) Śrī (Adi) Śaṅkarācārya, and his four disciples, 

11) Padmapāda, 12) Hastāmalaka,
13) Toṭaka, and 14) ŚureŚvara, and other Gurus.

It is from Bhagavān Srīman Nārāyaṇā, who is the embodiment of peace, lying on the bed of Ādi Śeṣa (1000 headed snake), is the origin of the universe, of all movable and immovable things, living and non living beings, past, present and future. He is the cause of Creation, Sustenance and Destruction and is the final abode of all ‘ Narās’(human beings) = Narāṇām ayanam iti Nārāyaṇā. He is manifested in the form of all knowledge and is endowed with six limitless glories: jñānam, wealth, valour, splendour, vairāgya(dispassion) and overlordship. Nārāyaṇā instructed the Vedas to Brahmā. The Vedas have no author, and are hence called “apauruśeya”. Veda Vyāsa authored the Brahma sūtra and other texts, such as the Gītā, to expound the knowledge of the Vedas.


From Srīman Nārāyaṇa’s navel sprung the lotus, in it was seated Brahmāji, the creator, with four faces symbolising the four vedas which are the source of all knowledge, which helped him in his work of creation. As Brahmāji is endowed with the knowledge of four vedas he becomes our second guru, Padmabhuvam, born from Padma the lotus.


Brahmāji by his power of austerity brought into manifestation Brahmaṛṣi Vaśiṣṭha our third guru in the parampara and taught him all the vedas. Vaśiṣṭha is an important character in Rāmāyaṇa. He is the Guru of Śrī Rāma and the preceptor of Ayodhya kings. By his ‘Tapo bala ‘ he was able to protect his divine cow Nandinī from King Kauśika who later became the famous Brahmaṛṣi Viśvāmitra, another teacher of Śrī Rāma.


Now comes the fourth Guru in the lineage , the son of sage Vaśiṣṭha, ṛṣi Sakti. He learnt all Śāstras from his father but was killed by Rākṣasas at an early age.


The fifth Guru in the line of worship, is the son of ṛṣi Śaktī, Sage Parāśara. He was a great philosopher and scholar, author of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa called Purāṇa Ratna (the jewel) among the purāṇa. He is venerated as the father of Hindu Astrology and also the famous Paraśara Smṛti which is his brainchild. Thus flows the Ganga of Vedic knowledge uninterrupted from father to son .


Now arrives on the stage the crown jewel, the great sage Vedavyāsa, son of sage Parāśara, on whose honour the holy Guru Pūrṇima is celebrated by all. All of us owe a great debt to this Mahātma who systematised the Vedas as we know them today. He gave us the great Itihāsa ( iti ha āsa – so indeed it was ) Mahābhārata, which contains the unparalleled Bhagavad Gītā, is considered the 5th veda. He was also the author of the 18 purāṇa depicting the various incarnations of the Trinity : Brahma, Viṣṇu , Śiva and other Gods and Goddesses. He composed a Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahā Purāṇa and taught it to his son Śuka Brahma Ṛṣi.


Śuka Mahaṛṣi (Śuka means parrot) a greatly venerated personality in the Hindu hierarchy of ṛṣīs. He was already a brahma jñānī, remained in his mother’s womb for sixteen long years. After he was born, he heard Bhāgavatam from his father and left home wandering in the forests. Śuka muni related the Bhāgavatam to King Parīkṣit who was cursed to die in seven days.


It is to be noted that here ends the lineage of ‘father son’ guru parampara as Ṛṣi Śuka was a celibate (Bala Brahmacāri).


Thus we have briefly covered the guru parampara of Nārāyana, Padmabhuvam (Brahma), Vaśiṣṭha, Śakti, Parāśara, Vyāsa, Śuka, all great preceptors, beginning from the Origin Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa Himself.


We will continue the Guru Lineage from ācārya Gauḍpada in the next section.


Rest of the Guru Parampara as we chant it , starts from ācārya Gauḍapāda. We will try to cover it in the next issue.